The 1884 home of John Harrell Schoolfield at 944 Main Street has had many uses – actual and proposed – over the years. It first left the Schoolfield family in 1939 when it was sold to Dr. Walter McMann. In addition to residing there with his wife, son, and daughter, he moved his offices there from the Masonic Temple in 1940.
On Christmas Eve 1941, Dr. McMann’s wife, Helen, was charged with manslaughter. This was the result of the death of a 9-year-old boy on River Road. Somehow, while riding his bicycle, he was thrown in the path of Mrs. McMann’s vehicle. Ultimately the charge was dismissed as there was no evidence of criminal negligence or even proven that the child was struck by her car.
Dr. McMann volunteered for service in 1942 when he joined the Army Air Force medical corps with the rank of Captain. He was stationed at Hunter Field in Savannah, Georgia. He followed two of his brothers, Majors Ira and Wellington McMann, into the A.A.F. All three were discharged and return to Danville in 1945. Dr. McMann reopened his practice of obstetrics and gynecology at 944 Main Street on December 22 of that year.
From 1950 until about 1965, Johnny Westbrook maintained his Museum of Natural History in the basement of the home.
Ray Michael Compson, a successful photographer, purchased the house from Dr. McMann in 1960, though the doctor continued his practice there until 1976.
In July 1960, a zoning variance allowed Carr’s Dental Laboratory to occupy the space formerly used by Westbrook. This tenancy was short lived with the dental lab moving to Watson Street in 1961.
In the 1971 survey considering the creation of our historic district, preservation planner Russell Wright rated this home as one of sixteen (16) outstanding Danville strictures – the highest rating possible. He noted the cast iron of the front and side porches with its turned columns, delicate cresting and railings silhouetted against the light painted brick walls. Fortunately, that iron remains today.
In January 1976, Compson filed for a zoning variance to convert the property at 944 to a group home for mentally handicapped persons. The home was to be a project of the Danville-Pittsylvania Mental Health and Mental Retardation Service Board and would have nine residents including counselors.
Not surprisingly, this proposal was not well received by Compson’s neighbors. Attorney French Conway, who resided at 912 Main Street, questioned how the residence could meet fire safety and other requirements for a group home. William Haynsworth of 954 Main said, “There’s nothing wrong with a juvenile detention home except it’s in the wrong spot.” Hugh T. Clements of 918 Main was concerned about the impact on property values. The Danville Historical Society passed a resolution opposing the proposal because of its location in the historic district. Ultimately, Compson withdrew his proposal before the Planning Commission had the opportunity to act.
Later in 1976, the Compsons sold the home to local orthopedic surgeon William S. Ogden. He later sold to dentist James R. Evans. The most recent transfer was to Carl T. “Tim” Norton in 2001.